I enjoyed many Europython conferences in my life, but last week was my first time trying to combine the full family life (wife, mother-in-law and very active 2 year old son) during the Europython 2023 conference in Prague.
Background information: Both my wife and my mother in law come from Odessa, Ukraine. We live in Vienna, Austria where i run a small business teaching Python to children and adults. Recently, my wife started learning Python as well to help out with my programming courses for children. As she needs a new career path anyway after the baby break, i wanted to introduce her to the python community so that she can see "python people" (aside from me) herself and look for career opportunities in the tech field.
The Europython conference organisators offered child care during the conference and we took my mother-in-law with us to have an babysitter for the evenings... we even dreamed about going out dancing after the conference. So far the dreams.
In reality, I started (unusal for me) to organize the conference visit months in advance. Buying conference tickets for me and my wife, buying train tickets (our son likes to run around a lot during traveling) and, most important, securing an place to stay close to the conference center.
If i learned anything at all during my past conference visits, it is that the physical distance between the conference and the hotel should be as short as possible. And i learned how important it is to arrive at the day before the conference starts, and to depart the day after the conference ends.
I finally found an good-looking place at AirBnB just a few walking minutes away from the Prague Congress Center were the Europython 2023 conference takes place.
I even found time to print out business cards for my wife and for myself and selected carefully a train from Vienna to Prague that terminates at a train station close to our home in Vienna and has toddler-friendly departing hours. We borrowed a foldable stroller to that could be stored inside the train compartment without problems.
Looking proudly at a big stash of printed-out tickets and telling my wife countless times about the amazing Europython conference experience I had, especially the funny "lightning talks", i felt very confident before the traveling started. what could possibly go wrong?
In the night before our departure, i got an email from the AirBnB host. She regretted to inform me that there was a serious water problem in my booked apartment and she could not host me. She offered me another Airbnb apartment of hers instead. I accepted and got an confirmation email while already sitting in the the train to Prague. So much to carefully planning the location, but i guess it was better to have an apartment at all then to have to search one at arrival time.
While the (thankfully very empty) train traveled to the Austrian countryside toward the Czeck border, it dawned upon us that each of us had a valid passport - except our child. We simply forgot to organize travel documents for him in time. While our son was busy hiding his toy cars in the train compartment (it's not an easy job for an toddler to keep 3 adults busy during an 5 hour train trip but he managed it masterfully) I practices in my head dialogues of how to convince various border guards that my son is indeed my son and i am neither a kidnapper nor an human trafficer.
In the end, we profited from the fact that there are seldom any border controls in the European Union anymore and the train stations of Gmünd (Austria) and Ceske Velenice (Czech) are only 2 kilometer apart. Nobody wanted to see any passport from anyone at all.
The very comfortable Czech wagon that we usued to travel had many praiseworthy features: climatisation, cozy 6-person compartments with chairs that can be transformed into one big sleeping area and (inside the Czech republic) flawless working wifi and internet. It had however one feature that i did not like very much and this is electronic reservation displays. Those displays were black when we entered the train in Vienna but became activated after the border crossing from Austria to Czech.
As our son was finally sleeping (for not-yet parents: it's the only time in life were you can have such luxuries as deep breathing, looking zombie-like at nothing or even trying to remember how to communicate with other adults), a very loud lady tried to enter compartment to sit at her reserved place. We tried to indicate to her to please be silent (there were enough free seats in our compartment and enough complete free compartments in the train) but in the end she preferred to sit in a different compartment (maybe she spotted our ready-to-use potty). The damage was however done and our child woke up, with all the emotions you get from disrupting a peaceful after-lunch-nap.
After arriving in Prague, I managed to navigate my family up and down through the streets of Prague, during a hilly park and finally to our AirBnB apartment. The apartment was a bit small (one room), but functional. I buyed some groceries at a local vietnamese-run mini-market and we headed back to the park for our first taste of Prague food in a nice beer-garden area with big playground.
When returning to our apartment we noticed that the fridge was not working (lukewarm beer is a crime against humanity). Fortunately, the AirBnB hosts came to our rescue with an replacement fridge.
After an hour-long walk (45 minutes according to Google maps) we arrived with the whole family at the Prague Congress Center. The volunteers at the registration desk were all very nice to us. One lady from Brazil even managed to get some kind of badge for my mother-in-law so that she could enter and leave the conference building without problems and even enjoy free fruits and coffee. As my mother-in-law speaks only Ukrainian and Russian, i wrote on her badge "I am a grandmother, please guide me to the childcare area". We gave our son into the childcare area (two nice rooms full of toys, with own toilets/wash rooms and plenty of young nannies). While signing in our son, the kindergarten boss lady took both phone numbers from me and my wife so that she could contact us in case of emergencies.
This task done, we went for the search for an ATM machine to get some local cash (Czech Republic is member of the European Union, but not part of the Euro zone).
When we returned (ca. 15 minutes later) to the childcare zone, we found our child crying his heart out and a desperate kindergarten boss lady telling us "This is not working out...". Our son is used to kindergarten in Vienna, but a complete new situation and suddenly disapperance of parents and grandmother was too much for him. The poor kindergarten boss had tried to reach us by phone but for technical reasons neither of us heard her calls.
In the end, we settled with the procedere that my mother-in-law would always be with our son in the childcare zone during the conference and it worked out good.
During the conference, we were mostly busy with:
- Making sure child and grand-mother are arrived good in the childcare zone
- Making sure grandmother get enough food and coffee
- Making sure child got his daily after-lunch-nap (best method is to walk with stroller in park)
- Frequently checking for child-related catastrophes
The remaining times between those activites was filled with: * Getting food/drinks/coffee for tired parents * Resting * Choosing talks to attend * Talking about attended talks * Socializing
One of the advantages of going to the conference as a couple (vs. going solo) was that we could attend two different talks at the same time.
One of the disadvantages of going with a little child to the conference was that at around 16:00 everyone of us (child, parents and grandmother) was super tired and had a strong wish to go home.
To my regret, i never managed to show my wife the athomspere of a lightning-talk session, as all lightning talks were sheduled at a day's end around 17:00.
My wife managed to attend a PyLadies lunch (she liked it) but was unable to attend the follow-up PyLadies social event in the evening because of child-care priorities.
We did managed to chat with (and got some valuable insights from) representives of companies who had a representation desk at the Europython conference. And we met a very nice photographer. Also, we could chat with some conference speakers and participants and had an overall very nice experience doing so.
My personal goal was to introduce my wife to the wider Python ecosystem which consist of people - the amazing Python community. In this aspect, i reached my goal, my wife was impressed with the amount, friendlyness, openess and diversity of the people she saw at the conference and she has now a far better idea of pursuing a career with Python than before.
My other goals, like visiting lighting talks, attending social events in the evening or even to go dancing with my wife after a conference day because a well-rested grandmother will take over our child remained unrealistic dreams.
Children grow older, and we noticed that we were not the only parents at the conference but our child was among the youngest. For the next Europython conference, we will have more practical experience and more realistic expectations.
At the time of writing, the vidoes of the conference talks are not (yet) online. Those are the talks I attended: